Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hermeneutic of exhaustion

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, where despite my best intentions, I ended up working 12 straight days without a break.  Mindful of nettles and myrtle, I am grateful for work that is sustaining, in literal and metaphorical ways, and that is extraordinarily stable.  But a number of conversations this week have left me thinking about how we read the rhythms of work and rest.  Are more hours construed as more devoted, more passionate, or just more?  Is rest something that we must collapse into, or is it built into the order of our day?  We speak of a well-earned rest, but what does it take to earn such grace?

Of course, the ability to ask these questions is itself a luxury. A few weeks ago, the New York Times had an article about shift work, and the ways in which the lack of a predictable and regular schedule, — a rhythm of work — can make it difficult or even impossible to meet the basic needs of life, from a place to live, to time for sleep and care for a family's children.  Over these days I've been aware of those I see working odd hours: the grocery store clerks re-stocking early in the morning, the baggage people there when my plane lands at 9 pm, the woman working the desk at the hotel overnight.  No matter how out of control my schedule feels, the bulk of it is not this much out of my control.

After this crazy busy rush, this weekend I made time to do my laundry, to sit and meditate in the warm rose and cobalt blue light of the parish's stained glass windows.  I walked with Math Man, wrote and read.

This afternoon I picked up Monastic Practices by Charles Cummings, a Trappist monk from Holy Trinity Abbey, written in the late 1980s after he'd been a Cistercian for almost a quarter of a century.  It's a practical book in some ways, grounding the customs of a monastery in Benedict's rule and lived experience in equal measures, which reminds me of First Initiation into Carthusian Life (it oh so practically covers laundry as well as prayer).

Cummings notes that while being and doing are two parts of who we are, and both need to be appreciate.  But being comes before doing, being trumps doing.  I risk doing so much that I fail to be, that I lose the ground I  stand on.  God, in whom I live and move and have my being.

Two other thoughts from the chapter that I'm thinking about.  "Monastic manual work brings me again and again up against the obduracy of things." and the notion that we might take on more work than we should to insulate ourselves from what might be found in prayer and contemplation.

And in all this I learned this is a journal called "Mystics Quarterly" (they reviewed Cumming's book when it first came out).  Do mystics need a journal?

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